Between the two, a melatonin supplement is more likely to help you sleep at night than magnesium, according to Shelby Harris, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis.
“Magnesium supplements may be helpful in promoting sleep, but the reality is that it hasn’t been routinely proven in research to know for sure,” Harris tells CNBC Make It.
“Melatonin is the most common natural sleep aid that can help gradually change the body’s circadian rhythm when taken properly.”
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But experts, including Harris, agree that you’re much better off getting melatonin and magnesium from foods rather than supplements. You shouldn’t take any new supplements without talking to your doctor first, notes Harris, because they’re not closely regulated in the US.
And “if a person has an underlying sleep disorder, it’s best to talk to a doctor about proper evaluation and treatment. Melatonin is not effective in treating most sleep disorders.”
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness, according to the National Institutes of Health. It helps your body’s circadian rhythms, also known as your internal clock and prompts your body when it’s time to sleep, says the NIH.
Melatonin can be used to “help with delayed sleep phase disorder, jet lag syndrome, jet lag, and sometimes insomnia,” says Harris.
But there are some contraindications to taking too much melatonin, she adds. “Taking melatonin for sleep, especially if you take too much, can have negative side effects such as nightmares, vivid dreams, headaches and satiety.”
There is not enough evidence to support magnesium supplements for sleep
If you’re magnesium deficient or not getting enough of the mineral in your diet, magnesium supplements can help you fall asleep, Harris told CNBC Make It in July 2023. However, “it’s not the panacea people say it is.” it is,” she added.
Magnesium supplements are great at relaxing muscles and “can help relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome,” says Harris. “Restless legs syndrome is a condition that causes discomfort in the legs throughout the night.”
Taking magnesium before bed can also help you wind down, she notes, but “there’s currently not enough research on magnesium and sleep to suggest it as a sleep aid.”
Some possible side effects of taking magnesium supplements are diarrhea, irregular heartbeat and kidney problems, Harris told CNBC Make It in July 2023.
“Before taking magnesium or melatonin for sleep, it’s important to establish proper sleep hygiene and habits,” says Harris.
She says developing good sleep hygiene looks like:
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule
- Staying off electronic devices before bed
- Prioritize relaxation before bed
- Avoiding caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime
All of this “may be helpful in increasing your body’s natural production of melatonin, making it easier to fall asleep,” notes Harris.
If you want to get more melatonin or magnesium in your diet to see if they help you sleep better after trying these steps, target foods first before supplements, Harris and other experts suggest.
Research shows that these foods are rich in melatonin:
- Nuts, especially walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts
- Cherry cake
- Cow’s milk
Harvard Health Publishing and Harris say these foods have natural doses of magnesium:
- Peanut butter
- Some yogurt
- Kidney beans
- Bran flakes
- Baked potatoes (with skin)
Harris suggests her patients have unsweetened yogurt with almonds or peanut butter at night to help them sleep better: “I always tell people about an hour before bed. Mixing protein and carbs can be helpful for some people. .”
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